Annenberg Public Policy Center director Kathleen Hall Jamieson presented a talk at TEDxMidAtlantic on the changing nature of political discourse. Her talk, “The decline of American politics, and how to fix it,” was given as part of TEDxMidAtlantic’s “New Rules” series, given in Washington, D.C., on October 21-22, 2016.
Jamieson discussed the history of American political campaigns and associated incivility, from insulting political cartoons of the 19th century to the debates of the divisive 2016 election. Smear tactics and efforts to discredit opponents are by no means new phenomena, even though it may seem as though level of disrespect has become increasingly worse over the years. Using examples from political ads, debates, and discourse over the decades, Jamieson cautioned : “Once you impugn the integrity of the other side, issue distinctions go by the wayside. Because you can’t trust someone who’s a liar to tell you what they’re going to do when they govern. Incivility displaces issue substance.”
Individuals and institutions are not good at recognizing or calling out bad behavior when their own side engages in incivility, Jamieson said. She stressed the need for candidates, parties, and institutions to police and correct themselves, as well as to make conscious efforts to stick to discussion of issues and policy, rather than impugning the integrity or patriotism of the individual on the other side. She urged people to ask: 1) What we could have done differently in the 2016 election to “raise the level of discourse and minimize some of these problematic, norm-breaking instances?”; and 2) How we can identity and analyze “personal characteristics and habits of mind that affect how a candidate will govern” without resorting to personal attacks or incivility.
The 2016 TEDxMidAtlantic talks centered on “New Rules” for a changing world, with speakers and performers covering a range of topics including politics, activism, science and technology, art, education, and more. Click here for a full list of speakers from the event.